More One Off Fun

Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Call them customs, call them one offs, call them special orders, call them late for dinner-it makes no difference to me-I just love them. Whether it’s somebody’s name inlaid into the fretboard (whom you’ve never heard of), a custom order color, short scales, tenors, weird cutaways-it doesn’t matter. They are still the coolest guitars out there. They represent, to me, a more accurate and detailed snapshot of the era. Instead of buying what Gibson was selling, the folks who ordered these specials wanted what they wanted and were willing to pay extra and wait a long time (usually months) to get them .

We see more custom orders at the higher end of the market-ES-5’s, L-5’s, Super 400’s and the like probably because these were the guitars played buy the pro players with a steady (and sometimes considerable) income. Considerable egos too, sometimes. This custom is a 1960 ES-355 that was just offered to me (and I bought it) and it’s a beauty. So what’s special here. Well, lots. There are no less than 4 custom elements here. See if you can spot them before I spill the beans. Look at the close ups at the bottom of the post for better detail.

Well, it’s a 355, so there ought to be a Bigsby. Stop tails are crazy rare but how about a trapeze? And it says Byrdland on it. I don’t know if that’s the one Gibson put on the guitar but there are no extra holes so if there was a different one the day it was built, the holes lined up perfectly. No telltale “snakebite” Bigsby holes in the top. This baby came with a trapeze for sure. And what about those Super 400 inlays. The big pearl block inlays on a 355 are pretty nice but these really pop. Beautiful. Let’s see, what else is there…look at those f-holes. Not only are they bound but they are bound with multi ply binding. My Super 400 didn’t even have that. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that on a Gibson-correct me if you have. And then there’s the fingerboard binding-multiply again-this time like a Super 400. So, it’s kind of a 355 mono with S400 elements but not quite. The original buyer must have been very specific about what he wanted and probably paid a huge premium for it.

What is great about this one-beyond the unusual and wonderful custom elements is that it’s very clear that these weren’t aftermarket mods. It’s not too hard to put bindings on the f-holes or change out a fingerboard with different inlays and binding. I’ve got a guy in my area who can do that with one hand tied behind his back. But the trapeze? Can’t fake that. The holes are always the giveaway. No stop tail holes, no Bigsby holes, no sign of anything but that big ol’ trapeze. The other cool thing is that the label says “Custom” written in ink right next to the 355. My inside guy at Gibson took a peek at the shipping log page for me and confirmed that it says “custom” next to the entry but no details.

So, do these one offs have a different value than the standard issue 355? That’s a tough question because some do and some don’t. I don’t mind an owner’s name in the fingerboard, although most collectors find it off putting and the price reflects that. I kind of like it, in fact. You sometimes see a 58-60 335 that should have dot markers with a 345 fingerboard. That one is actually worth a bit less, in my opinion because you buy a dot neck for what…the dot neck. Now, if you bought a 355 for the block markers, then S400 markers would be a negative but you buy a 355 because it’s a bit of a pimpmobile and the fancier, the better is kind of the whole idea. While not quite the pimpmobile that a Gretsch White Falcon is, the 355 is still pretty tarted up. So, to take the most appealing element of a 355 Mono-(the fancy stuff-otherwise, you’d just buy a 335) and make it even more appealing is, well, pretty appealing.

And the old rule–“don’t fall in love” still applies. Like I always say, I’d own 200 of these if I didn’t abide by the rule.


OK, this is too obvious.

OK, this is too obvious.

Must be a custom - it says so right on the label.

Must be a custom – it says so right on the label.

10 Responses to “More One Off Fun”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, very cool one-off and wonderful to have the “Custom” order confirmed in the Gibson shipping ledger…super Cadillac looks. Tuxedo or other fancy evening wear required when playing this stellar fiddle! 🙂

  2. RAB says:

    This’d be the perfect axe for a fancy New Years Eve gig, eh? 🙂

  3. Rod says:

    I hate saying this but whilst the up-market decoration does add something, that tailpiece really does NOT suit the guitar, it’s too fussy and makes it look unbalanced. Perhaps a 175 tailpiece?

  4. RAB says:

    Or even a plain ES-345 wire trapeze?

  5. Rob says:

    How about one of those fingers tailpieces like the Howard Roberts Fusion III? That might look cool.

  6. leeds says:

    Beautiful! Interesting to see comments regarding the tailpiece, as my first reaction was (and remains) that the tailpiece was my least favorite part. But to my eye, the guitar works nicely as a whole. I’d buy it in a heartbeat had I the money.

  7. cgelber says:

    I don’t have strong feelings about the tailpiece one way or the other but the bound f-holes really add a bit of class. And not just single white binding-these are triple white black white. The inlays work well too as does the fancy neck binding.

  8. RAB says:

    Agree the bound f-holes look great! It’s interesting that Gibson didn’t routinely bind the f-holes on the 355 since it was their top of the line model (charging a hefty premium!) and to further differentiate it from the 335 and 345!

  9. chuckNC says:

    1) There’s no way a plainer tailpiece would look right on a guitar that has those Super 400 inlays on the board. (The inlays are a bit much sitting right next to that fancy headstock. I would lose them in favor of the standard blocks — but I’d still keep that tailpiece.)

    2) I see bound F-holes on 355’s from time to time and, for some reason, they don’t do it for me. On THIS guitar they totally work. IMHO.

    3) The changed appointments all say jazz/orchestral guitar to me…and a blonde finish would seal the deal….says the guy who usually doesn’t flip for blonde ES’s.

    Now that I’ve had MY fun, I would be remiss not to tip my hat to the guy who custom ordered this guitar. It’s absolutely striking just as it is!

  10. Steve Newman says:

    I’ll put in my 2 cents on the tailpiece; if you’re gonna go bling (like the rest of the guitar appointments) go all the way with either a Super 400 or L-5 tailpiece. Agree with the above post that the general vibe given off by this guitar is of a super classy jazz instrument. Before you dismiss the idea, remember Gibson made the upscale solid body L-5S guitar and kept all of the regular L-5 appointments, including the tailpiece.

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